It's only 8:16 a.m., and the question put to the leader of the Genitorturers is this: "So, how did you get into S&M?" Three minutes later, she's asked, "And, uh, how many piercings do you have?" Ah, rock 'n' roll, a truly American art form that encapsulates the highs and lows of humanity and allows those living along the margins of society to talk about deviant sexual practices, even at eight in the morning.
Consider Gen, a.k.a. Mistress Gen, who leads the aforementioned Tampa-based traveling circus of sadomasochistic industrial rock 'n' rollers. Since her band's inception in Orlando at the beginning of the decade, Gen and her crew of pierced, tattooed, leather-wearing, pain-loving miscreants have been shocking conservatives and delighting voyeurs with their music and exhibitionist performances. After the arrest of a male member of the group for indecent exposure (for exhibiting his own male member) in 1992 at a Lollapalooza date in Disney's backyard, Gen and crew moved to the relatively more freak-friendly confines of Tampa. The next year IRS Records released the band's debut, 120 Days of Genitorture, onto an unsuspecting and uncaring public.
The metallic industrial-punk drenching the album wasn't nearly as interesting as the cover, which featured Gen in black leather gloves and hat-and-bra ensemble, licking a thin metal spike. Gen's screeching was certainly compatible with her ferocious picture, but the music was standard-issue Wax Trax-ish pounding beats and yelling. It was supposed to be sadomasochism for the ears, but it was all pain, no pleasure.
The follow-up, Sin City (Cleopatra), was released last year with a less scintillating cover and much more interesting music. Gen sings in a sexy, husky voice, while the rest of her band (husband-bassist Dave Vincent, guitarist Chains, and keyboardist V. Saletto) have become more tuneful and song-conscious. Darker and coarser than, say, Garbage, while remaining in the same raspy, sex-kitten ballpark, the record is more musical than works put out by most of the underground's industrial bands. It's surprisingly listenable, especially the jarring cover of AC/DC's "Squealer."
The five-year delay between records was the result of standard business wrangling, as IRS folded and wasn't sure what to do with its stable of bands. As a result, the Genitorturers have a healthy backlog of music. "Some of the songs on Sin City were written years before the record came out," says Gen. "They were ready to go [when we were] on IRS. That's why we even have our next record ready; we're kind of playing catch-up at this point."
But, as one might assume, the Genitorturers' concerts overshadow their recordings. They combine sex and violence in ways that most people have only heard about. Most of the action takes place between Gen and the "slaves" she brings with her, but they do take volunteers.
Elvis Costello once toured with a giant roulette wheel, that, when spun by an audience member, dictated which song Elvis and his band had to perform. The Genitorturers make use of a "Wheel of Misfortune" divided into the following categories: electrotorture, bloodsport, examination, baptism, and penance. A volunteer is brought onstage and told to remove his or her shirt and lie down. In one of the wheel's scenarios, one of the ten people touring with the band steps up, lifts her skirt, rubs a gloved hand across her genitals and then across the volunteer's face. Sometimes urination is involved, or a slave is shackled to a cross and pins are stuck into the slave's chest -- all while Gen continues to sing, not missing a note. The wheel, she says, "brings in an element of spontaneity. We're telling a story, but there's an element of chance that comes in with the wheel."
This style of performance has caused the band to be dually criticized -- by right-wingers and by people who say the band is all style and no substance, using an obvious gimmick to distract attention from the lack of musicianship. That reproach made sense on the Genitorturers' first record, but with Sin City the audio is catching up with the visual.
Gen, who spends part of her non-Genitorturer life as an organ transplant coordinator, is remarkably nonconfrontational about the criticisms. She suggests that her detractors "loosen up. What we do is present an element of lifestyle, but it's also entertainment and theater. We combine reality with theater, so there are going to be people who don't get it, people who don't understand it because it is cutting edge."
She admits that the band is reacting to the style-over-substance charge, however. "With the new show we are trying to showcase the music more. Our show has always been written to highlight the music and not necessarily to highlight the show. I know that's hard for some people to understand," she says, laughing. "When we put the show together, the show is really a way of bringing the music to life."
The five years the band spent honing its chops and maturing musically have produced results. The Genitorturers are still a spectacle, but the less abrasive music means they're easier to listen to while absorbing the shamefully enticing spectacle of, say, a slave dressed as a nurse unzipping Gen's leather underwear with her teeth.
"The show now is a lot more cohesive, as is our music," she says. "It flows; it moves from start to finish. It's meant to take you on a journey. When we were writing the record we were listening to a lot of Alice Cooper, Pink Floyd -- things that were very conceptual and that told a story," she explains. "A lot of albums that come out now don't have that quality to them. It was something that was very prevalent in the '70s, to present more of a conceptual element, and that's something we're doing with Sin City, and bringing that into a theatrical realm as well."
It's a tough tightrope to walk: offering a great Alice Cooper-style show with equally strong music. Even if you succeed "there's always going to be people who don't get what you do," Gen says. "So if you're true to your art, then you're always going to have critics on either side. You give them great music, and they say, 'Where's the show?' Give them a great show, and they say, 'Where's the music?' You can't win, so you have to be true to who you are."
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Similar critiques have been leveled against one-time South Floridian Marilyn Manson, a performer whose roots are tangled in the Genitorturers' family tree: They've shared producers (Nik Turner and David Ogilvie); Manson's appeared onstage with the Genitorturers; and their images both owe a thing or two to the sadomasochistic lifestyle. Yet Manson is a star -- a hero to disenfranchised kids trying to freak out their parents -- and Gen is not. But she isn't bitter about his success. "I just saw their show, and I have to say it's one of the best shows I've ever seen," she says. "I've watched him progress from a little kid lighting lunchboxes on fire and pouring chocolate syrup on the girls in the front row to this absolutely phenomenal performer. No one can take that away from him. The bottom line is that he's a very great performer."
So what is it about Florida that inspires so much extreme behavior from its musicians?
"This is a place that people move to, and it's a place that does have a very transient population," Gen explains. "It shifts a lot, and there is a lot of growth here. Orlando, in particular, is a fabricated city. Disney came in and created this Truman-esque society and that breeds a certain element of discontent because it's not real."
The Genitorturers will perform Friday, April 16, at Button South, 100 W. Ansin Blvd., Hallandale, 954-454-3301. Tickets cost $12.50 in advance, $15 day of show. Showtime is 7 p.m.